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Merkel Cell Carcinoma Specialist

Joshua Ellenhorn, M.D., FACS

Board Certified General Surgeon & Surgical Oncologist located in CEDARS SINAI MEDICAL TOWERS, LOS ANGELES, CA

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare kind of cancer, but it’s also a cancer that grows and spreads quickly. If you find any suspicious lesions on your skin, it’s best to get them looked at by an expert like Joshua Ellenhorn, MD. Dr. Ellenhorn, practicing in Beverly Grove, nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, is a leading surgical oncologist who specializes in treating cancer, including Merkel cell carcinoma. Call today to find out more or book an appointment using the online form.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma Q & A

What is Merkel cell carcinoma?

Merkel cell carcinoma or neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin is an unusual form of skin cancer. It typically develops on the head, face, or neck, although it can come up anywhere. It appears as a blue, red, purple, or sometimes flesh-colored nodule.

The nodule doesn’t usually cause any pain. Merkel cell carcinoma grows rapidly and easily spreads (metastasizes) to other parts of your body.


What causes Merkel cell carcinoma?

Cancers occur when cells in your body mutate and start to multiply, creating tumors. In this case, it’s the Merkel cells that mutate, which are cells in the lower layer of your outer skin (epidermis). Your nerve endings connect to Merkel cells, so they’re important for your sense of touch.

The precise cause of Merkel cell carcinoma isn’t clear. Recent research indicates that a virus called Merkel cell polyomavirus is responsible for triggering Merkel cell carcinoma, but it’s not known how this happens.

Merkel cell polyomavirus is very common, living on the skin and not causing any symptoms. Merkel cell carcinoma is very rare, though, so there must be reasons why the virus causes this form of cancer in so few people.


How is Merkel cell carcinoma treated?

Treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma usually consists of surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding skin. Dr. Ellenhorn can also remove nearby lymph nodes during the procedure if there’s evidence the cancer is spreading into them.

Another surgical technique is Mohs surgery. This involves removing thin layers of tissue for examination under the microscope. Dr. Ellenhorn continues to take these layers until there are no cancer cells present. Mohs surgery is more precise, which means there’s typically less scarring.

Radiation therapy uses X-rays and protons to kill cancer cells. Dr. Ellenhorn might recommend radiation therapy after surgery to make sure of destroying any remaining cancer cells.

If you don’t want to have surgery, radiation would be the alternative treatment. It’s also useful for treating areas where the cancer is spreading.


What medications help treat Merkel cell carcinoma?

Immunotherapy can be a useful treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma. With immunotherapy, you receive biological medications that boost your immune system and help you to fight the cancer. Immunotherapy is often a treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma that’s spreading around your body.

Chemotherapy drugs are only used in a few cases, perhaps if the Merkel cell carcinoma is spreading or it’s come back after you’ve had other treatments. Unfortunately, Merkel cell carcinoma does tend to spread even with treatment, causing serious, life-threatening metastatic cancer affecting your bones, liver, lungs, or brain.

If you have any symptoms of Merkel cell carcinoma, Dr. Ellenhorn is an expert in treating this condition and offering you the best chance of recovery.

Call Joshua Ellenhorn, MD, today, or book an appointment online to explore skin cancer treatment.